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Giving people their lives back

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Clients with early onset dementia have unique needs, as Adrian O’Dowd reports.

Early onset dementia usually means complete upheaval for the person concerned and her or his family.
In the past, people with such a condition have not always had all their needs met. However, the Limes Nursing Home in Cambridgeshire does all it can to make the lives of people with early onset dementia comfortable. As far as possible, it tries to give people their lives back.
The Limes is a 22-bed home for people with early onset dementias, which includes a range of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementias and alcohol-related dementias. The residents are all under 65 but range from people in their 30s through to those of retirement age. Residents are able to take part in a wide range of activities at the home and have opportunities to be involved in community projects.
The 48-strong staff includes psychiatric nurses, general nurses, care assistants and activities coordinators. Staff members are given NVQ training and distance learning is also offered to all of them.
Ann Mortlock is deputy manager at the home, and has a background in nursing older people as a mental health nurse as well as in acute care.
‘We have unique demands on us compared with other care homes,’ says Ms Mortlock. ‘People in their 40s have completely different needs to people in their 70s or 80s.’
To cope with this, the home has a higher ratio of staff to clients than an average care home for older people.
Flexibility is vital at a home like the Limes. Some people are staying at the home for the rest of their lives, while others only stay for a relatively short time.
Ms Mortlock adds: ‘Each day revolves around residents’ needs, which are changing all the time. There has to be built-in flexibility. The challenge is in supplying each individual with what they need without compromising the safety or needs of others.’
Relatives are an important part of the home as well. They can visit at any time, and even stay over if necessary.
‘It’s a great loss to someone to lose their relative in their 40s and 50s to conditions like Alzheimer’s. They need a lot of support,’ says Ms Mortlock.
There are challenges, but there are also some great rewards in her work: ‘The ones who can leave this building and attempt a more independent life – that’s wonderful.’
She adds: ‘We have clients for whom that is not going to happen as they have a condition which is deteriorating. The rewards with them can be something as simple as bringing them out of their own lost little world and connecting with them – getting eye contact, a raised eyebrow or a smile.’
Janet Burroughs, care coordinator at the home, is a care assistant by background. Her role includes being a physiotherapy technician.
‘The rewards, from the physio side of it, come when you see the client benefiting from the physiotherapy,’ says Ms Burroughs. ‘We had one client who came in and we were told they would never walk. But she is now up and walking.’

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